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Red Cross ‘didn’t show up’ at hurricane shelters, says Miami-Dade schools chief

Douglas Hanks
Miami Herald (TNS)
The metal canopy at a gasoline station is shown after it was overturned by high winds brought on by Hurricane Irma, Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, in North Miami, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

MIAMI — Miami-Dade schools chief Alberto Carvalho said the county’s chaotic opening of dozens of shelters ahead of Hurricane Irma stemmed in part because the Red Cross “didn’t show up” to manage operations.

Schools served as most of the 42 shelters that Miami-Dade’s county government opened ahead of Irma, the largest ever operated as a response to an unprecedented evacuation order affecting more than 600,000 residents.

The American Red Cross has an agreement to operate shelters but lack of staffing slowed openings in Miami-Dade and in some schools left principals scrambling to manage logistics tied to a sudden influx of more than 1,000 people looking for refuge and food.

“In some instances the Red Cross showed up very late. In some instances, the Red Cross never showed up,” Carvalho said at a press conference at Shenandoah Middle School on Monday. “We made an executive decision that we would open the shelters on our own led by our principals and our custodians and our cafeteria workers.”

A Red Cross spokesman, Robert Baltodano, referred questions to the charity’s regional communications director, Grace Meinhofer. She did not immediately respond to an email with questions.

Carvalho’s remarks were the latest to question Miami-Dade’s readiness to shelter residents for a major storm. Mayor Carlos Gimenez acknowledged “glitches” in opening the shelters, some of which only became available after dark on Friday with tropical-storms arriving the next morning.

He cited the Red Cross running out of staff and volunteers in Miami, as well as the National Guard arriving after the county needed troops to help open the shelters.

Gimenez dispatched county police officers on Friday to fill in staffing gaps, and praised the school system for its response in the largest storm response in Miami-Dade’s history. The National Guard arrived in force late Friday, county officials said.

Carvalho joined National Guard troops at his press conference, calling them the “heroes” that got shelters running smoothly.

“We had scant support from anyone else, save from the National Guard and our staff,” Carvalho said.